You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no recognition of his comedic timing and says crossly, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that create this interaction. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often reported in those who have hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss remains unaddressed. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s someone yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers film, it just becomes really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a bit cranky, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going crazy when they experience this. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- The interior of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Damage to these hairs is what produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your level of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re frequently confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That conflation is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But there are some key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem extremely loud to you. Think about it like this: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feeling pain. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never come back once it goes. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. Usually, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require scheduling an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those frequencies. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only certain types of hearing aid will be effective. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Make an appointment with us
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to recognize that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound better.
But it all begins by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.